Grand Central Station, NYC
Review by Susu, MaceVindaloo, Rosie, ThePlazaQueen, SteakGril, Diana, Wraith6, Runt, Farklempt
This was the first stop on our "NYC Deli Tour" -- the "native cuisine" of New York City is arguably Jewish delicatessen fare. In fact, Jewish delis have defined much of the cuisine here. For instance, kosher laws are nowadays optional, but most delis will "keep kosher" for those who request it. That means no butter with your meat, no ice cream for dessert unless you had a "dairy" or "non-meat" meal (that's why we eat Jell-o!), no milk in your tea, and no bacon or cheese. Seriously, that's why Americans use mayonnaise on their sandwiches instead of butter, like the rest of the Anglo-Saxon world does. And margarine is such a big part of non-secular Jewish cuisine (no dairy, see?) Curious, huh? So anyway, about the Deli Tour ... we're going to try pastrami, matzoah ball soup, and cheesecake at as many as we can! This is stuff we have trouble getting elsewhere, plus one should play to a place's strengths. (That's not to say they won't serve cheeseburgers or bacon grilled cheese sandwiches to the Goyim!)
Like all good New York delis, pickles and cole slaw were brought to the table as we looked over the menu. There was a bonus too! A bowl of pickled beets! Now, it's popular to deride this vegetable, but many of us actually love it prepared in any number of ways. One of us used to plead for pickled beets for dessert if we were expecially good, so seeing them on the table was magical. We ate them all!
The burgers and overstuffed sandwiches we ordered were really good -- cheeseburger served with fries and onion rings, pastrami on rye with no condiments, deepfried chicken strips for the kiddies. They were moist, flavorful, textured just right, and the cheeses and bacon alongside were good, too. Plenty of lettuce and tomatoes on the plate, so no "side veggies" were required.
To add to the "outdoor" and "deli" ambiance, food is presented on paperboard plates and bowls, and they give you plastic cutlery. It's a bit seaside, a bit picnic, and not very effective. The metal cutlery is welded to the backs of the seating instead, it seems. My matzoah ball soup was leaking out of it's collapsing paper bowl within minutes -- it was a challenge to get the soup into me before it spilled all over me. The other negative was their "garden salad" -- nothing wrong with the salad itself, but there must be some rule of delis that says "overpile the place so the customer can't possibly eat it." Another rule might be "just layer the vegetables on, don't toss it." I ended up asking for it to be wrapped up so I could put it in a proper bowl to eat later.
Now the pièce de resistance! New York has a cheesecake that is different from other cheesecakes, in that it's basically a custard pie with too much cream cheese melded into it. It's sweet but slightly sour, creamy but sticky, easy to eat but dense and heavy. Junior's is said to make the quintessential cheesecake, so we had to have some! We shared a few slices around the table, and were just stunned at the pureness of the experience. We didn't even bother to wash it down with coffee as we were eating it, it was so good.
General advice: come after 2pm when the lunchrush is over, don't order the salad or soups -- the paperboard plates and bowls are inadequate to the task -- but DO leave a lot of room for the cheesecake. An authentic NYC style deli will leave the cheesecake "naked" or "plain" until it's ordered, then spoon fruit pie filling over the top for those who want "strawberry" or "blueberry" cheesecake. Don't bother with the other types of cheesecake, they aren't the real deal!
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